The Westminster Confession

On Wednesday 8th May 2019, The Church of Scotland is hosting a conference, organised by the Theological Forum.  The conference, Westminster, Confessions and the Church, will run at New College, Edinburgh.  Speakers from Scotland and elsewhere will explore different aspects of the theology and status of the Westminster Confession.

The Humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines… (New College Library, Special Collections MH. 319)


The Westminster Confession of Faith is one part of the Westminster Standards drawn up between 1643-1649 by the Westminster Assembly which consisted of over 100 participants from theological and parliamentary backgrounds, brought together to restructure the Church of England.  Several Scots attended the Assembly and the Church of Scotland adopted the Assembly’s recommendations, including the Westminster Confession which, together with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, became the standards of doctrine for many Presbyterian churches around the world.

An Explication of the Article of the Confession of Faith (New College Library, Special Collections MSS WES 3.2) – temporarily unavailable for consultation due to conservation work.

From its inception, the Westminster Confession has attracted criticism, not least because, by its nature, it has to rely on man’s interpretation of the scripture and that will always be open to question.  Nevertheless, its longevity bears witness to the exceptional effort made by, and the effectiveness of, those who gathered in Westminster in the mid-17th century to offer their very human advice regarding ‘a confession of faith: with the quotations and texts of scripture annexed’.

Confession of Faith 1690 with signatures (New College Library, Special Collections MSS WES 3.1)

From 1st-31st May, an exhibition related to this conference will run in New College Library.

If you are interested in seeing specific copies of related Special Collection items which are not included in the displays, please contact staff at the Helpdesk.


An explication of the Article of the Confession of Faith of the Church of Scotland chapter 2 3 & 4th, namely that infidelity or difference in religion doth not make void the Magistrat’s just and legal authority &c. (New College Library, Special Collections MSS WES 3.2)

The Confession of Faith agreed upon by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, with the assistance of Commissioners from the Church of Scotland – approved by the General Assembly 1647, and ratified by the Parliament of Scotland 1690. With the formula for the subscription of ruling elders.  (New College Library, Special Collections MSS WES 3.1)

The Humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines, now by authority of Parliament Sitting at Westminster, concerning I. A Confession of Faith: II. A larger Chatechism. III. A shorter Chatechism.  Presented by them lately to both Houses of Parliament. Westminster Assembly (1643-1652) Edinburgh : Printed at London and reprinted at Edenbrough ; MDCXLVIII [1648.  (New College Library, Special Collections MH. 319)


Gina Headden, IS Helpdesk Assistant, New College Library

Judaism and Jewish Studies: the work of John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan and Adolph Saphir

New College Library holds collections of and about a number of individuals who gathered material and wrote extensively on Judaism and Jewish Studies, motivated by their interest in the conversion of Jews to Christianity.  Two significant figures in this area of interest are John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan and Adolph Saphir.

Duncan was a colourful, intelligent and, at times, tortured soul, one particularly gifted in the study of languages and in missionary work.  Born in 1796, he obtained an MA from the University of Aberdeen in 1814.  When he began his study of theology, he was still an atheist and did not convert to Christianity until 1826.  Even thereafter, he had times of doubt before settling into firm belief.

John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan – portrait by Hill & Adamson

In 1840, having spent some years as an ordained minister, Duncan’s interest in Hebrew and his growing interest in the church’s work concerning the conversion of the Jews to Christianity led to his appointment as the Church of Scotland’s first missionary to the Jews.  Stationed in Budapest from 1841-43, Duncan was remarkably successful in his work there converting, among others, the young Adolph Saphir and his family to the Christian faith.

But in 1843, following The Disruption, Duncan’s calling took him back to Edinburgh where he held the chair of Hebrew and Oriental Languages at the newly-founded New College, remaining in post there until his death in 1870.

Until recently, Duncan’s collection was not easily accessible but it can now be searched for online.  Resources by, about or owned by Duncan can be found in DiscoverEd and also via this resource list compiled by Academic Support Librarian, Christine Love-Rodgers.

In 1843, one of Duncan’s converts, 13-year-old Adolph Saphir, came with him to Edinburgh from Budapest, his father being keen that the young Adolph improve his English and train as a minister of the Free Church.  This process took some time and saw Saphir travel to Berlin, Glasgow and Aberdeen, becoming a student of theology at the Free Church College, Edinburgh in 1851.  In 1854, Saphir, himself a Jewish convert, was appointed a missionary to the Jews.  Saphir’s mission took him first to Hamburg and then, in 1856, to South Shields.  Five years later, he moved to London where he remained until his death in 1891.

Adolph Saphir – photograph by T. Roger, Swan Electric Engraving Co.

Despite Duncan’s inner battles of the spirit and his lack of prowess as a formal teacher, his personal piety, linguistic and informal teaching abilities, as well as his success as a missionary, were impressive.  Saphir and he contributed significantly to the collection of items in New College Library, particularly with reference to the Christian mission to the Jews during the 19th century.  Their legacy is to the ongoing benefit of scholars of Judaism and Jewish Studies.

A small exhibition of some of our Duncan and Saphir material will run from                 26th February-31st March 2019 in New College Library.


Mighty in the Scriptures: a memoir of Adolph Saphir, D.D./by Gavin Carlyle. J.F. Shaw and Co.; 1893.


Gina Headden, IS Helpdesk Assistant, New College Library and Christine Love-Rodgers, Academic Support Librarian, School of Divinity, New College.  

With many thanks to Jessica Wilkinson from the School of Divinity who contributed so much to identifying and listing the relevant New College Library collections.

Library Resources for Islam and Muslim-Christian Studies: an introduction

From time to time, we compile resource lists on different aspects of Theology and Religious Studies.

Islam and Muslim-Christian Studies are developing areas of our collections, responding to the new teaching and research activities of the School of Divinity. Below is a brief guide to some relevant resources you can find at New College Library.


* Books on Islam at shelfmark BP (downstairs in Stack I)

* Copies of the Qur’an at BP 109

* Books on Islamic law/Shari’a law at shelfmark K (downstairs in Stack I)

Online Journals about Islam/Muslim communities

* Al-Jamiʼah: Journal of Islamic Studies

* American Journal of Islamic Studies

* Comparative Islamic Studies

* Contemporary Islam

* Critical Muslim

* Islam & Science

* Islam and Christian Muslim Relations

* Islam and civilisational renewal: a journal devoted to contemporary issues and policy research.

* Islamic Studies

* Journal of Indonesian Islam

* Journal of Muslim Mental Health

* Journal of Muslim minority affairs

* Journal of Shi’a Islamic Studies

* Journal of the International Qur’anic Studies Association

* Sociology of Islam

* Studia Islamica

* The Muslim World

This is a selective list which features only journals published in English. The library also provides access to other online journals in the field of Islam which are published in other languages e.g. Arabic, Turkish and Indonesian: search in DiscoverEd to find these.

Online Databases

* Christian-Muslim Relations Online

* Early Western Korans Online

* Encyclopaedia of Islam

* Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an

* Encyclopedia of Women & Islamic Cultures Online

* Index Islamicus

* Kotobarabica Arabic E-Library

* Oxford Bibliographies Online: Islam

* Oxford Islamic Studies Online

* Qurʾānic Studies Online

* Twentieth Century Religious Thought: Islam

You can find further resources at:

If you’d like to find out more about sources relating to the study of Islam, or any other research topic relating to Divinity, please contact Christine by e-mail at:

Christine Love-Rodgers, Academic Support Librarian, School of Divinity, New College and Gina Headden, IS Helpdesk Assistant, New College Library.


Thomas Chalmers and The West Port Experiment

Those with an interest in Scottish church history are likely to be very familiar with Thomas Chalmers and the role he played in the Disruption of 1843 but how many know much of his West Port experiment? Continue reading